Saturday, 21 November 2020


We have been at Level 3 (out of 5 levels) of Lockdown for about 6 weeks.  Now,  along with the city of Glasgow and adjacent counties have moved to a level with more restrictions due to the high R rate.  It is to last for 4 weeks.  The hope is that there will be a greater suppression of the virus enough to allow an easing over the Christmas period.  (Other areas where the population is less dense are at a lower level, e.g. highland and island communities.)

What I would like to know is .... what is driving the increase in infections?  Is it students?  Care homes? Prisons?  Areas of crowded (read 'poor') housing?  Bars? Gyms?  It is a difficult ones e.g. a scrupulous bar owner is inundated with cheering football fans who celebrate Scottland's recent win.  I wonder if making him get rid of his TV in the lounge would help things?                           

We live in a middle class area of mostly detached houses.  It appears one of the biggest problems being faced in this type of area is teachers and/or school children off school either ill and/or self-isolating.   Yes, the testing system is in place but, as we have seen this week with young Alastair (aged 12 years old and in secondary school) ... He was kept off school, quite rightly, as he had a cough.  It meant the whole household had to be kept off school or work until the test results came back.  Forty-eight hours later they came back negative... thankfully! It appears that the rate of early winter flu is down and so is vomiting and diarrhoea incidence.

So Friday all shops and premises dealing in non-essential services shut for 4 weeks.  I am really sorry for them.  From what I have seen they have been super attentive in all aspects of their work and still they get hit.

Schools and universities stay open but blended learning is being encouraged (some home; some at uni).

Life simply rolls on much the same for us however.  Cafes we go to will shut so that is going to affect our one and only social set-up where meet and greet on a Friday.

Vendée Globe Race, Week 2:

There is lots of feedback from the various boats and agencies following this circumnavigation junket.  Big boats with big (plus not so big brands) plastered all over their sails and hulls are out in the Atlantic heading for the Trade Winds.  Most have now crossed the Equator after roughly a week of sailing. 

I thought this route map was interesting.  Basically this group of 33 boats are heading down the Atlantic Ocean for the tip of Africa and into the Southern Ocean returning by way of the tip of South America and back home again.  

This writer thinks the whole thing is ridiculous; why not call it the 'Round Antarctica Race'? Why not have starting line somewhere like Deception Point in Antarctica, sound the starting gun and have a race back home again?  

But interesting and interesting-er is this:

The French word or expression for The Doldrums (a zone north of the equator  of windless weathe where the northeast and southeast trade winds converg)  is Pot au Noir.  I am finding difficulty figuring out why this has been given this name.  I am still working on it (and my French)!

Life in MacLeod Towers:

One week is much like another... but we both keep well!

I join the Zoom sessions every Sunday afternoon with the Young Fiddlers.  I have my iPad set up (next to my keyboard) on a button box that belonged to Iain's mother A tiny external speaker helps the sound.  

The arrival of a load of Christmas trees at Dobbies this week.

I am still able to bring in flowers from the garden albeit the colour comes from the seeded of the irises. The child plant is from Ottilia... no peppers appearing after flowering however.

There's a moose loose about the house!  The last of the shortbread I made earlier in the week.  The kids prefer plain biscuits so this one is a candidate.  I use a recipe I picked up in Orkney; it uses semolina to give it crunch.

Lastly we  enjoy the weekend papers in the November sunshine.  I am reading Iain Rankin's latest book A Song for Dark Times which is a detective story based in modern day Edinburgh and also Caithness.  He absolutely nails it for setting and current cultural references e.g. Brexit, Northern Coast 500 Tourist Trail (scenic route around the north coast of Scotland).

Thursday, 12 November 2020


To help keep up my spirits during Lockdown I decided to follow the 2020 Vendée Globe Yacht Race   [ Accueil - Vendée Globe ].    It is a bit like following the Tour de France if you're a cyclist or Formula One racing for petrol heads. It reminds me that I am not out there getting wet!  I bury myself under a duvet and watch as they deal with water slopping around the bilges and fix damaged or snarled equipment, not to mention things like getting fouled up with fishing line.  

Ah-h-h memories of hour after hour of long passages. It is not unlike being in Lockdown where we have to patiently endure the hours, days and weeks until we get back to normality. [This week: one pharma company has issued vaccine and has encouraging trial results; plans for a vaccination programme are now being prepared.]

[Credit: Yvan Zedda]

This year’s race started on Sunday Nov 8 from Les Sables-d'Olonne on France’s Atlantic coast with 33 skippers [and 9 different nationalities] aboard their 60-foot International Monohull Open Class Association-rated (IMOCA) vessels. It is a single-handed non-stop race.  This year there are 6 female skippers and 27 male skippers. It takes about 3 months; best time 2017 was 74 days.

There are 19 boats which incorporate hydrofoils … or 'foil’ boats as they are called.  It seems they are using  a new 2020 ‘C’ style foil which means that the sticky-out bit at the sides are not straight out but curved. [Source: L'Occitane website]

The race is more about technology than ever these days. Pictures showing the inside of the hull illustrate that they are completely stripped out except for instruments, wires and winding gear! I believe they are very noisy!  In 1990 I was aboard 'Drum' in the Clyde and found that this big racing boat was completely stripped out inside, just a shell with instruments and slings from the cockpit ceiling to hold stuff.  The interior of these racing machines today seem much the same!  

[Source: IMOCA website]

Having spent years looking at pictures of yachts in all their glorious technicolour I still enjoy the photos and videos that the press or the participants send back.

[Source: L'Occitane website]

[Credit: Jean Marie Liot]

[Credit: Yvan Zedda]

[Credit: Vincent Barnaud]


In Scotland (elsewhere in the UK and the rest of the world, it appears)  the number of cornavirus cases being admitted to hospital is rising; the death rate is rising.

The following photographs give a flavour of the economic impact that is starting to become evident.  This is the pedestrian precinct in Milngavie this week.

A low budget clothing store  preparing to close.

A pub frequented by some of Milngavie's older worthies of the male species is boarded up this week.  The word is that it is 'being mothballed'.

A hairdresser's window this past week. Left to right: Perm-Kin, Lockdown 20/20    and Punk-Kin.

The one saving grace of having one's activities curtailed, from a music point of view, is that I am doubling my practice time as I prepare for my piano lessons (Skyped) each week.  I am discovering the wonderful music, (well, I should say, more wonderful music) of Phil Cunningham.  Such a fine musician; up there with Paul McCartney I reckon... Anyhow, when looking for one of his tunes to play along with using my iPad I found this video.  It has a wonderful joke right at the beginning -   1 minute 15 seconds in.  It is here [it is number 2 of 2 videos of Phil and Ally Bain playing at Biddulph Town Hall in 2010; Number 201003232318241]

Sunday, 1 November 2020


While Scotland has been in partial or modified lockdown since mid-September, the numbers continue to rise but not as bad as England, it seems.  England has a much denser population, of course.  So headlines saying UK is in Lockdown are, as usual, incorrect.

Be that as it may, in Scotland all the places that were closed in March are still closed.  Pubs and restaurants are having stricter rules  applied now (those not serving food have to close early), curfews being imposed.  Socializing with a limit of 6 people in still in force.  No visiting one another's houses.

This week we had a funeral on our street as it is not allowed to forgather in a church or crematorium.  It took the form of the hearse arriving at the house (our neighbour's)  and a piper playing Highland Cathedral out on the street while we (and other friends and associates of the deceased) stood in observance.

We thought the piper would be the grandson of the deceased who is in the habit of playing on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle perhaps for a 21 gun salute as he is in the military forces (as were his father and grandfather).

[Source: Regimental Piper magazine]

Iain liked the occasion because once it was over and the cortege slowly made its way down the street with a man in a top hat in front of the hearse, he simply returned to the house and got the kettle on.

I had heated up some Marks sausage rolls (tested out the grandchildren earlier in the week and given the thumbs up) and shared them from my picnic basket with the remaining folk on the street. You simply can't have a Scottish funeral without sausage rolls. 


Harriet and Ellie were over Saturday morning (as they are part of our 'bubble').  I made some bread dough (from lovely fresh yeast given to me by Otillia) and had it in readiness as the weather was wet with strong gusting wind.

This is Ellie giving it 'welly'.  The video that should be here may or may not work; the above photo may have to suffice.  She has absolutely got it for using a rolling pin as well as kneading dough.  (That is not pastry but white bread dough in the photo.)  So I said to her "Now give it some 'welly ', Ellie!"  which she thought was extremely funny. 'Welly' is Glaswegian for 'put your back into it'!

A recent quote from her when decorating a cake with Smarties:  "I get the last Smartie 'cause I'm a busy baker."  She certainly makes us laugh!

Our other source of delight, of course, is Harriet, 7.5 years old.  She is not into baking ... which is fine ... so she set up a cafe in the kitchen. 

This is her notice on the glass door next to Grandma's Height Chart.  Just to make sure there was fair treatment between them I took a picture of her sign on the door in order to record her neat writing.  Without realising it the photo of the sign was totally blurred (this one I took later) but... helloo-o-o-o-o! Just look at the photo of her watching me take a photo of the sign ....

.... a moment caught when not posed... a definite  'keeper' !

* * * * * * * AM I JUST GETTING OLD?   * * * * * * 

Prior to a dental appointment this week I was asked to fill in a form ahead of time. I recall doing this before and it did not work; it did not work this time either (so I didn't spend any more time trying to enter the 2 simple fields: Name and Date of Birth).

I turned up at the dentist and was offered an iPad to fill in the form which consisted of about 40 questions.  Above is one series to do with diet. The question highlighted is:  "Is your diet high in sugar/or high frequency?".  Does anyone ever check these things over before they are put out?!!!

And then there are banks.  I am obliged to use my iPhone for banking with HSBC.  I Must.  Full Stop. Apart from feeling very insecure about doing this, I can't help wondering where this is all going to end? Too many bells and whistles; too much to go wrong, I reckon!

Saturday, 24 October 2020


Our friend, WD (Bill), in his early nineties and a widower, lives alone in his own house and continues to be 'shielding' from the Coronavirus.  He doesn't complain; he has his books, books and books plus Countdown on television.  

I visit him from time to time.  If we cannot sit, socially distanced, in his back garden (directly under the Glasgow Airport flight path -   quiet these days!) I stand at his front door while he stands in the porch and we catch up on our news.

This week it was the front porch  where I proffered a chocolate cupcake from Marks. He misses 'treats' and finds my baking a bit too crunchy or crusty for his liking. 

For reasons I cannot remember I have been searching for geometric patterns, not so much from the natural world, e.g. sunflower whirls, (with which I am familiar) but rather something along the line of of molecular structures (i.e. a different part of the natural world). It occurred to me that the DNA helix would be an example. I mentioned this to our friend Ken M., whose subject is crystallography, and he told me to google 'Penrose tiling'.  Oh my goodness!  What an intriguing topic! It is all about a geometric pattern with five-fold symmetry and furthermore the pattern can be expanded infinitely without ever repeating itself.  "Weird", I say to myself.  There is a whole area of science related to this. What I find fascinating are the aesthetic aspects.

Once I started looking at the shapes and colours and how it can be incorporated in decorative use, it just got interesting-er and interesting-er. 

Basically it is about "aperiodic tilings of the plane, made from 2 sort of tiles : kites and darts". [1] 

Photo: Herbert Kociemba

As it happens on October 6th the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their work on black holes.

Two Anecdotes:

An article from Prospect Magazine: [2] 

Before I get to Bill's story, here is an item relating to the significance of his geometric contribution to science.

The author states: "These tilings – there are other shapes that have an equivalent result – are strikingly beautiful, with a mixture of regularity and disorder that is somehow pleasing to the eye. This is doubtless why, as Penrose explained, many architects have made use of them. But they also have a deeper significance. After Penrose described the tiling [in 1974], the crystallographer Alan Mackay – one of the unsung polymathic savants of British science – showed in 1981 that if you imagine putting atoms at the corners of the tiles and bouncing X-rays off them, you can get a pattern of reflections that looks like that of a perfect crystal with the forbidden five- and tenfold symmetries. Four years later, such a material was found.

You can use these tiles, he [Penrose] said, to represent the rules of how things interact in a hypothetical universe in which everything is non-computable: the rules are well defined, but you can never use them to predict what is going to happen until it actually happens."

In the article  the author included an anecdote about Penrose "inspecting a new tiling being laid out on the concourse [...]. Looking it over, he felt uneasy. Eventually he saw why: the builders, seeing an empty space at the edge of the tiling, had stuck another tile there that didn’t respect the proper rules for their assembly. No one else would have noticed, but Penrose saw that what it meant was that “the tiling would go wrong somewhere in the middle of the lawn.”  "  

Penrose in the foyer of the Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, Texas A University, standing on a floor with a Penrose tiling. 
[Photo: Wikipedia]

Bill's recollection of Penrose:
Bill, a mathematician, did not know about this tiling business but told me that he knew Penrose and was friendly with him when they were both at Cambridge in the early 1950s.

Standing on the doorstep he told me "He was by far the smartest man I ever knew... and the closest I will ever come to knowing a Nobel Prize winner!  I played squash with him and one year we travelled to Amsterdam to a conference."  Bill mentioned that Penrose was supervisor to Steven Hawking and noted:  Hawking would make claims and then later retract them; "Penrose never did that."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Paving done using Penrose tiling. Photo by Sattuman soittoa.  

_ _______________________________________________


[2]  Prospect magazine 2013 article by P Ball :

Sunday, 18 October 2020


Another week with rising numbers of people getting coronavirus.  I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that there is a Track and Trace system in place.   Apparently we are at the same level as when Lockdown was imposed back in March. However with no Track and Trace at that time it makes me think there were actually a lot more cases. (In March the level was taken to be the number admitted to hospital, and eventually, those in care homes.)  This would be yet  another example of  a type of 'science' where it is only expressing that which is measured. Or put it another way: if it is not measured, then it doesn't exist.

An interesting point relating to the history of epidemiology: there have been some very good studies, for example, James Lind's demonstration in 1747 that a diet which included citrus fruit prevented and cured survey; Ignaz Semmelweis's evidence in 1845 that cleanliness prevented puerperal fever and John Snow in 1854 identified that the local water supply (in Soho, London) was the source of cholera infection (known as the Broad Street Pump study - below).

Back to life's simple pleasures:

Autumn colours - our garden this week

The grandchildren, at lease 2 of the 4 of them: Harriet and Ellie in the park.  Apparently there is a case of Covid in the secondary school that Ish and Alastair attend, but it is not in their year. The affected child had a university student sibling and that particular class has to self-isolate. I guess this is how things are going to be now.

I got my hair cut this week. Having had to wait 6 months to be able to get my hair cut earlier this year I made sure I wasn't going to risk the same thing happening again.  

Then we managed to get out a bit this week... to have coffee, socially distanced, of course, with friends.

These photos were taken in Drymen, in the village square.  Iain is in the second photo.

Restaurants are closed but some tea-rooms are open. However I am now seeing shops boarded up (possibly temporarily?) and  For Sale signs on property.   

At the end of October:  Government furlough payments stop in 2 weeks' time.
The clocks go back so we will be heading into shorter days and longer nights ... alas darker days in more ways than one.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020


The news is full of statistics and graphs showing how the pandemic is worsening.  Hospital admissions are up and, in England, they are preparing the Nightingale  facilities (temporary hospitals which are empty in readiness for a surge).

Scotland has already closed bars and restaurants for a fortnight.  It is the school holidays just now so this is seen as a 'circuit breaker' attempt to stem to rise in cases (and deaths).  

People whose jobs have been put on hold (musicians, entertainment people, for example) are looking at a continued life of no income. 

On the other hand there are people like us who are not spending money ... at all.  No petrol for a car that is not going anywhere, no new clothes for events that have been cancelled, no special food or drink for visitors who are not allowed to visit. And so it goes.  

We are keeping busy however with house and garden activities.  Here is Iain preparing venison for dinner.  He likes to fry up a steak.

We saw the 2 youngest grandchildren at the weekend.  We comply with socially distancing by sitting in the park behind our house as seen below.

* * * * * * * * * A PUZZLE * * * * * * * * * 

A friend sent me this photo and asked me if I could take a guess at what it was.  

I tried: a rather nice room with military people on the edge of the group.  A  man wearing a fez in the background.  Easter European? I thought. But that's about as far as I could manage.

It is of the trial of Gavrilo Princip [centre front] and his fellow-prisoners on the charge of assassinating the Archduke Francis Ferdinand (and his wife). It is a well-known fact that the assassination was the catalyst that started the First World War.  

When talking about this event with some friends this week it appears that it was a bit of a fluke that it happened the way it did. The car the Archduke was in ... seen here minutes before the assassination...

drove the wrong way (from the rest of the motorcade) and had then stopped to buy a sandwich. [Really?!] The assassins saw them and took their chance;  the rest is history.

Millions of soldiers lost their lives .... all because of a sandwich?